How To Fish Stillwaters

October 20th, 2003

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher


By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

Over the past 50 years I've spent a considerable amount of my fishing time each spring chasing bluegills. In the beginning I used my spinning gear, rarely ever my fly rod. My bait of choice in those early years was a small chunk of nightcrawler. I used a bobber and thoroughly enjoyed fishing for bream.

Somewhere along the way I discovered smallmouth bass in Idaho's Snake and Boise river systems. I also discovered a local creek where I could seine shiner minnows. I combined the shiners and the smallmouth into many pleasurable hours of fishing. I still feel there is nothing more exciting than watching a smallmouth pull a bobber under. It did take me a few trips to learn patience on the take of Mr. Bronzeback. Until I learned to wait for the second "take," I missed a lot of fish. An old-timer watched me miss four or five strikes in a row one day. He explained to me that when a bass takes a live minnow, the first "take" is to stun the minnow. The fish then releases the prey and positions itself to swallow the bait head first. That's when you count five and strike.

I also learned to fish both crappie and bluegill with the smaller minnows. Crappie are fine in the skillet, but not nearly as much fun to catch as bream.

Then in the mid-60s' a friend introduced me to float tubing for trout. It didn't take me long to adapt tubing techniques for my bluegill fishing.

At first I spent most of my time fishing sinking lines and wet flies. About that time I had the good fortune to fish with several of the top float tubers in southern Idaho. I learned bluegill fishing from several of these anglers, including the legendary Ruel Stayner. Ruel taught me to use small bluegill poppers and fish next to the weed beds and tules. Ruel explained to me that the bluegill's lifestyle is more in tune with trout than any of the other warm water fish.

"Bluegill," Ruel explained to me on one of our first bream outings, "will feed on basically the same aquatic insects as any of the members of the trout family." He explained that the best wet flies to use for bream include imitations of leeches, damsel nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, backswimmers, mayfly nymphs and caddis pupas. He also mentioned that when fishing for larger bluegill, his namesake pattern, the Stayner Ducktail, is by far his most productive fly.

But Ruel also spent much of his time fishing floating lines and some type of floating fly pattern. While he liked small poppers, Ruel would also fish traditional dry patterns like the Royal Wulff and the Humpy.

While I stayed pretty much with small poppers for a couple of seasons, I picked up some floating ant bodies, and tried tying some "spiders." I had a little trouble with the rubber legs, so one evening at my vise I had a brilliant idea. I tied on a white ant body and dressed it with white saddle hackle. I thought it looked great. A whole bunch of fish (about 50 or 60 according to my journals) agreed with me on my next bream trip.

During the following months, I dressed the same pattern in black, orange, green, yellow and brown. When I began to tie flies commercially, my Taylor bluegill spider became one of my most successful patterns. When I operated a Boise fly fishing shop in the early 80s', I spent many a lunch hour tying spiders at my desk while customers waited patiently to go fishing.

I still see no reason to "waste" the more fragile floating dry flies on bluegill, when the spider works so well. It is extremely durable, and when the hackle wears out, a new one can be installed in less than a minute. I have Taylor spiders in my bluegill box that have been repaired numerous times.

While bluegill can be taken on floating flies all season long, my favorite time to use the Taylor spider is when bream are on their beds. In my area, that occurs about the 1st of May. The larger bulls who are guarding the nests become extremely antagonistic towards anything that invades their nest site.

Taylor Bluegill Spider

    Hook: Mustad 94840 (or equivalent), Size 10.

    Thread: Black (or matching color), 6/0, prewaxed.

    Body: Large ant floating rubber bodies, white, orange, yellow, black and brown.

    Hackle: Saddle hackle to match body color, four or five wraps. ~ Marv

About Marv

Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West, The Successful Angler's Journal, More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from Marv. You can reach Marv by email at or by phone: 208-322-5760.

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